Monday, March 2, 2020

March always enters with the hammering of a gong, the resonance of its import vibrating off the drywall and rattling the windows. This is the month of rebirth for much of the world, and the month when we here in the tundra watch that rebirth longingly from behind frosted glass. Our time will come. Our spring will stretch forth. Just not yet. Luckily, we’ve got lots to keep us busy.

National Black Women In Jazz & The Arts Day & International Black Women In Jazz & The Arts Month

I can find a reference to this day promoting a weekend of concerts, film screenings and parties in Atlanta in 2015. From what I can tell, an organization ( has been promoting this as a month-long celebration… or at least they did five years ago. Having long been a fan of black women in jazz I’m not sure a month is enough time to celebrate all these artists. Yesterday morning I found a nice extensive Spotify playlist to accompany our brunch, and I’ll be tuning in closer to this genre all month. It’s not a big stretch from my usual listening.

We all know the big names: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. But there are other great names to pay attention to:

  • Nancy Wilson, the girl with the honey-coated voice. She was a brilliant singer, and won three Grammys.
  • Abbey Lincoln, who lent her voice to Civil Rights songs way before it was hip to do so.
  • Betty Carter, who could scat through a song and leave you dizzy – a simply incredible voice.
  • Dorothy Ashby, who played a mean jazz harp. Not a harmonica, an actual harp. She made that thing bounce in the wild frenzy of bebop.
  • Shirley Horn, who played piano and collaborated with Miles, Dizzy, Wynton and many more.

That’s just the surface – there are hours upon hours of auditory bliss to float through this month. We hope you’ll join us because it’ll be a brilliant ride.

National Minnesota Day

As evidence that traditions need only a couple months to form, we have established a tradition of honouring our weekly featured state with some sort of regional cuisine. While we could have combed the Nordic roots of so many Minnesota towns, we opted instead for what appears to be a beloved local feature from a place called Al’s Breakfast in the hilariously named neighbourhood of Dinkytown, Minneapolis. We were intrigued by the Wally Blues, which is a blueberry-walnut pancake creation. We added our own spin (a few extra berries) and toasted the North Star State with a tasty brunch.

We drove through Minnesota some nine years ago on our cross-country mission to deposit our son in his new Toronto home (seldom to return). Minnesota was lush and scenic, albeit with a few too many preachy religious billboards along the highway for comfort. Whatever – if there is a God, and He felt like crafting a chunk of land that pleases the soul into a state of scenic wonder, He couldn’t have done much better than Minnesota. It’s a state of devastating beauty and perpetually heartbroken football fans.

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but this is somewhat inaccurate. There are actually 11,842 lakes of at least ten acres in the state. Its name comes from a word in the Dakota language that means ‘clear blue water’. ‘Minne’ is the water portion of the word, which is why you have Minnehaha Falls (“curling water”), Minneiska (“white water”), Minnetrista (“crooked water”) and Minneapolis (water + the Greek word for city). Famous folks from Minnesota? I mean, apart from Prince, who was half-human, half-funk-God… you’ve got Loni Anderson from Saint Paul (my first celebrity crush), the Coen Brothers from St. Louis Park, Judy Garland from Grand Rapids, Winona Ryder from Winona (weird), and Charles Schultz from Minneapolis. Not a bad roster.

National Fruit Compote Day

The term ‘fruit compote’ is a little tricky to pin down. The traditional food is a warmed-up blend of fruit, sugar and spices, served as dessert. It was believed that cooked fruit in sugar would balance the effect of humidity on the body, which makes about as much sense as any medieval medical theory. In the Renaissance it was made in a similar way, but served cold. In France the sugar was dropped and a puree (like applesauce) was considered a fruit compote.

I’ve seen items labeled fruit compote in the grocery store which are no more than chunky jam – that’s what I believed we were diving into yesterday. Alas, we only had grape jelly on hand, which stretches the meaning of fruit compote far beyond its original definition. The blended-up raspberries we poured upon our peach melbas back in January were a closer fit.

So yesterday we celebrated the spectrum of compotery throughout history. Apples and cinnamon, baked in brown sugar and spooned over ice cream may not fight off the humidity that will ensconce your flesh later this year when the sun kicks into gear, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

National Peanut Butter Lovers Day

We discussed the origins of peanut butter as a spread to assist patients who couldn’t chew back in 1890 – we did this on National Peanut Butter Day, January 24. But the National Peanut Board and the Adult Peanut Butter Lovers Fan Club (which sounds like a club of people who are (a) fans of peanut butter lovers, and (b) possibly into pornography) decided in 1990 to honour that doctor’s efforts by creating this day.

Okay, we can celebrate peanut butter twice, thrice if necessary (Peanut Butter & Jelly Day, April 2), and even qurice if the calendar calls for it (Peanut Butter Cookie Day, June 12). Peanut butter is the easy go-to when you need some non-snack food but don’t feel like preparing anything. I can attest to this – the one time my dad made me dinner, it was a jar of peanut butter and some pita bread. We each had a knife for spreading. It was pure class.

Our celebration yesterday involved the pinnacle of peanut-butterishness: the Reese. We had a few mini-cups laying around from Jodie’s Christmas baking, and they were delightful to pop back between meals. I also enjoyed a snack of a PB&J, which tied into our loose celebration of fruit compote. We had to be efficient yesterday; there was a lot to do.

World Compliment Day

And in an unusual twist of quirk, we run into yet another repeat from January 24. That was when we celebrated National Compliment Day – this is when we take that party worldwide, I suppose. This day originated with the National Compliment Day in the Netherlands, and the aim was to make it the most positive day in the world by expanding it outward. We can thank a guy named Hans Poortvliet for this one. He felt if everyone took the time to offer sincere and genuine compliments to three people in their lives, the level of positivity on the planet would skyrocket.

Jodie and I each chose three of our friends yesterday, and delivered compliments to them via social media or a private message. We could easily find heaps of compliments for every friend in our lives (which is why they are in our lives), but had to keep things limited. Jodie had homework, and clearly I had this monstrosity to write. We love you all, and we’ll try to include different people with every similar celebration to this. Yes, there are more.

I don’t know if yesterday became as positive as Mr. Poortvliet (a “recognition professional” according to one source I found… anyone know what the hell that is?) had hoped. Did enough people participate to raise the global vibration? One can only wonder. At least we tried.

National Pig Day

Ah, the pig. The glorious pig. Pigs kill more people annually than sharks around the world, but we’ll always see them cast as protagonists because they speak to the soul of humanity – the ultimate id. Pigs are characterized as dirty, even though that is merely an inevitability of their homes of muddy pens. They are the ones who allegedly devour without care of consequence, as though that separates them from the rest of the animal kingdom somehow. They are also, in the cases of Wilbur, Porky, Babe, Miss, and that last Little one with all the bricks, given the traits of craftiness and wit in fiction. Sisters Ellen Stanley and Mary Lynne Rave created this day to honour our porcine friends back in 1972.

So how to celebrate the pig? At the Tisch Children’s Zoo in Central Park, pot-bellied pigs are featured, and the kids get to compete in snort-off competitions. In Lehigh Valley, PA, the IronPigs minor-league ball club starts selling their tickets for the season on this day, and they make a huge party of it. But the question remains – does it make more sense to honour the pig on this day by refraining from dining upon pork products? Or should we embrace their offerings by savouring the delicious “other white meat”?

We landed in the latter camp. We have no immediate access to pigs, though the snort-snuffles and guttural grunts offered up by Trixie, our English Bulldog research assistant, allowed us a near-celebration by proxy. No, pigs are incredible for many reasons, and one of them is the unkosher, non-Halal delight of their meat. Apologies to the veggies and vegans among our readers, but it was tasty bacon for brunch and a delightful pork tenderloin (with a sauce that included peanut butter because dammit, we go all in) for dinner yesterday.

Finisher’s Medal Day

Ah, our first day of this project devoted to exercise since Personal Trainer Awareness Day back on January 2. This day was launched by the Little Rock Marathon as a way for runners to appreciate the work they’ve put into their training, and to promote the competitive spirit. The marathon in Little Rock began in 2003, but this is only the third year of this celebration.

Here’s a surprising fact: neither Jodie nor myself have ever participated in an endurance race. Not since school, when all participants in phys-ed would be tossed onto the track and instructed to run some ludicrous distance. This was an eye-opener to those among us who would later choose endurance racing as a hobby or profession, but for the rest of us it was an unpleasant necessity to pass the course.

Still, we applaud those who can drag themselves to train for such impressive feats of athleticism. We have friends who have taken this on, and the mental and physical conditioning they’ve gone through has been nothing short of intense. Today we raise our glasses to you, but we cannot join in. My chest infection still blasts coughs from my throat at M-60 levels, and Jodie is now fully flattened with a sinus cold. But the next big exercise-heavy day will see us suit up and join in. Because once again, we have to. Ugh.

Beer Day (Iceland)

Way back in the dark days of 1908, the people of Iceland voted for a ban on all alcoholic drinks, beginning on January 1, 1915. Why did they give themselves seven years to get ready? I don’t know, but those seven years were undoubtedly one hell of a party. The ban lasted until 1921, when Spain took a bold economic stance, refusing to buy Icelandic fish exports unless Icelanders started buying Spanish wines again. Out of economic necessity, an exception was made.

Common sense might tell us that if a country were to gradually ease off of Prohibition, letting in weaker stuff like beer would make sense before allowing the hard stuff. Not Iceland. In 1935 they held a national referendum to legalize spirits, but beer was still off the table. Why? Because beer is cheaper, easier to get, and would lead to a quicker collapse of society. It was a weird path, but Iceland kept beer out of local fridges for decades. Bills would pop up to legalize it, but they wouldn’t pass. In fact, they even passed a law in 1985 prohibiting pubs from adding legal booze to non-alcoholic beer because SUCH FUN WOULD NOT BE TOLERATED, DAMMIT. Beer remained illegal in Iceland until 1989.

Now March 1 has become the day for Icelanders to celebrate the end of an extremely lengthy misguided piece of legislation. They can drink now, dammit. I savoured a session IPA from Gaedingur through this lens, imagining how an Icelander would enjoy the experience of an actual beer after nearly 75 years of being denied. It was a damn fine beer, and a great way to taste it.

Namesake Day & Celebrate Your Name Week

Onomatology: the study of proper names. One guy who dedicated a lot of his free time to onomatology was a dude name Jerry Hill, who established this week-long celebration of our names back in 1997. Each day features a different way to look at our names, and to appreciate them, as well as names in general.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never thought much of my name. It’s an appellation, and I suppose I benefited from not attending school with anyone who bore a similar moniker, which cut down on confusion. But this week I’ll follow along (because hey, we have to), and we’ll look into our names in a few different ways.

Yesterday was about celebrating how we got our names. Jodie was named Jodie because her parents liked the name – nothing more riveting than that. In Jewish tradition, I was named after the male relative who had most recently passed away: in my case, that was my uncle Bill. Bill’s real name was Martin, but he hated it so much he had people call him Bill instead. What a mirthful legacy to inherit.

The problem with Martin is in the pronunciation: most people landed on Mar’-un, allowing the ‘t’ to float away into the ether. When Back to the Future came out in 1985 I happily took on the shortened form of ‘Marty’, though my mother forbade anyone to use it until my friends in junior high overwhelmingly out-voted her. It’s a weird journey, but I suppose I’m happy with where it ended.

Plan A Solo Vacation Day

Full disclosure: Jodie and I do not take solo vacations. I have a good friend who annually ventures off into the wild on his own, soaking in the culture and people he encounters and embracing an almost Jack-Londonesque sense of pure adventure. That isn’t me. I need someone to riff with, someone with whom I can share the experience. Jodie and I also opt to not venture out “with the boys” or “with the gals” on anything beyond an evening, as we travel so damn well together. We balance one another in humour and savvy, and we tend to want to see and do the same things as one another.

But, for the sake of casual postulation, we concocted a solo dream vacation for each of us – both picking things we know the other would probably not enjoy as much. These were hypothetical vacations that will likely never come to be.

For Jodie, it was a yoga retreat, likely someplace warm and seductive where the air blows scents of tropical fruits and salty sea in lengthy, well-proportioned breaths. She chose a series of days to refresh her soul and commune with paradise. I’d go along, but I’d probably skip the yoga and opt for laying in the sun instead. I’m not particularly bendy. My solo vacation would take me to New York, and every night would be packed with visits to jazz and blues shows and comedy clubs. Again, Jodie would happily accompany me, but she’d opt for Broadway while I’d want to live in the Village.

Maslenitsa (a.k.a. Russian Butter Week)

Our good friend Daria pointed us toward this one. She grew up in Russia, and along with our son she celebrated this one by making pancakes (crepe-style, not the fluffy ones) every day. Cream cheese, smoked salmon, caviar, all sorts of fillings were included. Maslenitsa is a pagan celebration, quite possibly the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. As with most classic holidays from this time of year in our hemisphere, this is all about the end of winter leading to the rebirth of spring.

For the Orthodox Christians, this is the last week during which you can eat cheese, milk and eggs – meat is already off the table with Lent having begun already. The last day of the week – which would have been yesterday – people ask one another for forgiveness and often exchange small gifts. It all ends with a big bonfire. This is how it ties together – the pancakes represent the sun, and the bonfire is all about the warmth that pushes winter back into its grimy hole and brings the life and light of spring to the forefront.

We had our own pancakes, sure, but the bulk of the celebration for this one was handled by Colton and Daria across the country. We are grateful they let us know about it – we love holidays that are bathed in light and optimism, and even more so when there’s food to be consumed. And of course Great Lent begins tomorrow for those who opt out of all dairy and meats… that won’t be us. We’ve just got too much to celebrate.

Today I’m back at work, which is about as joyous as it sounds. We’ve also got a fairly reasonable menu to tackle:

  • Dr. Seuss Day. We will check out some Seussian literature, and have a look at the breadth of awesome the good doctor prescribed to us.
  • National Old Stuff Day. We’ll have a look around the house at some of our favourite old stuff. Maybe I’ll pen a little bit of Seuss verse about some of it.
  • National Banana Cream Pie Day. We could not find one in the city over the weekend. Our hunt will continue, because this would make a fine dessert tonight.
  • Fun Facts About Names Day. Easy enough; I’ll try to find some.

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